Why we created Stories.
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
First things first, thanks. You have the entire dysfunctional, meme-enabled, post-truth internet at your fingertips but you’ve chosen to be here.
This is the prologue.
For the last 6 months, the three of us - Richard, Paul and James - have been defining what a development business that better responds to our rapidly changing society and ways of living and working might look like. We’ve by no means cracked it. We probably never will, but we’re ready to start sharing what we have learnt with the hope we can start learning from you.
Here are some of the things we were, and are, frustrated by.
We are frustrated that despite often the very best of intentions, decisions we make or inherit as developers invariably boil down to maximising financial performance. Yet the buildings and outdoor spaces that we create are the fabric upon which we live our lives. Their success dictates our success - think growing up on the wrong side of the tracks.
That’s not to say we neglect economics. Quite the contrary. Economic performance and growth is critical - it is the fuel of an economic and political system that has demonstrably outperformed all others and, despite the current fashion, it is very far from broken. Let’s think of this as a software update for capitalism. We believe that we all have a responsibility to consider the broader output of our decisions and expand our definition of value to include the environmental and social impacts of our decisions.
We are frustrated by the types of relationships that exist between stakeholders in our system. There is a lack of trust, nowhere more evident than between local communities and developers. Similarly there’s no transparency - just think about the way a design and build contract works.
As developers we often fail to put the work in to empathise with others and we ‘trust our gut’ rather than listening. We talk about being partners, so let’s actually follow through. Let’s remember how the public and private sectors can work together to do great things. Let’s build our teams properly and learn to co-create and collaborate with all stakeholders. As developers we are there to use our broad experience and skillset to create a platform to empower brilliant people to do their thing.
We are frustrated that our industry’s lack of innovation and productivity growth costs the global economy trillions of dollars. We recognise that it’s probably the hardest industry to innovate given the levels of investment needed, the cyclicality of its markets, its highly fragmented structure (the list goes on) but there are so many opportunities for iterative improvement in the way we work and the technology we use. Furthermore, as the ‘smart homes’ become incumbent, the Silicon Valley world is turning their attention to our industry. If we aren’t careful we’ll go the way of Kodak.
Most importantly, the good news is we are really excited. Why?
It seems to be a really good time to start this business. We started this journey feeling like loners, the David to the industry Goliath. What we’ve learnt is that we really aren’t. The more we look, the more we find friends who are driven by shared values and an understanding of how socially responsible development can work and how we can create social value. The challenge we have is breaking down the systems and processes that govern our industry. We need decision makers to forge a new path, stick their necks out so that together we can prove that we are right, and give others something to point to and say, “I want that too”. We’re grateful to those of you already giving us this opportunity - we’re well underway on a number of opportunities and we have already been retained by a leading pension fund.
If there’s one thing Richard is most proud of, it’s the fountains at Granary Square. It is loved by young and old and it’s the ability to create this type of magic that got us all into this job in the first place. It’s that magic that we want to re-find in development. We have such intense emotional connections to our built environment. Neuroarchitecture may now be revealing this scientifically but we’ve known it since the dawn of time. We have chosen to call our business Stories because great places are about the stories we tell and the stories they allow us to tell. Let’s be passionate about designing for people.
Three. Doing good is good business.
Even if you’re cynical about it, doing good is just fundamentally good business. In setting up Stories we have had conversations with banks, private equity investment houses and social impact investors. We studied the Victorian era “5% philanthropists” models, the first generation New Town financing models and spoke to charities and different kinds of investment trusts. We also engaged widely with the topic of social impact and what it means to different people.
We learnt that there is a need amongst investors for investment opportunities that deliver on ESG objectives. We learnt landowners want, or are required to assess social value when determining best value. We learnt about this shift towards conscious consumerism (thanks Millennials).
Socially responsible development considers the value being returned to all stakeholders, not just shareholders. Where stakeholders play such a defining role in the development process, their support translates into better outcomes.
Which brings us nicely on to more specifically what our new business, Stories, is about.
To sum up, we passionately believe that people and communities flourish in better built environments. We will realise this vision by creating and shaping meaningful places that put people and their lives at the heart of the process.
Stories is a socially responsible property developer. We are focused on mixed use developments across the UK that maximise economic, social and environmental impact for all stakeholders. We care about legacy and remain strategically involved for the long term. To hold us accountable, we are a pending B Corporation business, working towards full certification in a years’ time.
We believe empathy and transparency are key to successful partnerships. Our Impact Model leverages our founding team and our partners’ extensive track record to deliver the right outcome for the right place. It combines deep, measured engagement with all stakeholders to develop a needs-based strategy that informs thoughtful, human-led design.
We are concerned with maximising stakeholder value not just shareholder value. This approach is embedded into our DNA. All of our projects will invest directly back into the local community.
Development is hyper-local. Each project will require its own needs-based strategy which will help inform the product we create to ensure it maximises social impact. The process is just as important as the metrics - participation breeds successful projects. This will run in parallel with a best in class approach to product and placemaking with an emphasis on better engagement, modern methods of construction and technology such as BIM.
We are really committed to transparency and trust. We will be sharing our development appraisals because we really can’t see what we have to hide. We think it’s important everyone understands the economics of development as it drives a lot of the decision making.
We are right at the start of this story. We’re publishing a page at a time. This is a learning process for us. We’re self conscious enough to know that we lack diversity and we are looking to hear from as wide a range of perspectives and experiences as possible. We will say things which we realise may be wrong or half baked. So challenge us and share in this discussion. If we really believe in our mission our goal should be to make our USP redundant. In the meantime, we’re excited about leveraging it to become the development partner of choice and get stuck into some really exciting and rewarding stuff.